Today has dawned gray and cold. Sunshine has been in rare supply lately, but at least yesterday’s rains have moved on. We received about two inches of rain which once again left the wooded part of my front yard standing submerged. Thankfully, my hellebores again have their heads above water. They are one of my stronger plants, sending up blooms well before any other flowers and yearly withstanding these spring floods. I like them, too, because the deer do not. My rhododendron cannot make the same claim. The long period of deep snow and ice this winter limited the food supply. Large herds of deer began to appear, and apparently on the menu was every leaf and bud of my rhodie. Its burgundy blooms will be sadly missed this year
As I write, I’m looking out the window of my library, and I can see that the pond behind my property is once again within its banks. Whenever we have a heavy rain, the creek and pond merge into one large body of water. I suspect the water was three feet higher yesterday, making the small cabin on the far side a wooden island. The ducks are happy though, and I can see the mallards coursing back and forth across the pond’s surface. The Canada geese are conspicuously absent today, but I’m sure before day’s end, they will also make an appearance.
Earlier, I saw some very large, black birds rise and soar across the pond. I pulled out my binoculars and saw that they were my first turkey vultures of the year. Apparently some small, unfortunate creature did not survive the winter, and the vultures were huddled around for breakfast. Speaking of breakfast, I have not made it out to feed the birds yet. A flicker is working on the last few seeds in the tube feeder. It is quite a balancing act for him to hang onto the lowest perch and swing his long body back far enough to allow him to reach the seed port. The ever present squirrels are busy cleaning up all the fallen seed from the ground. Last night I forgot to bring in the suet feeder that hangs on the deck, so I see the raccoons ate well.
This is still the sparse time of year, as far as birds are concerned. My yard is full of the usual winter suspects- cardinals, titmice, nuthatches, chickadees, as well as assorted woodpeckers and sparrows. My first eastern towhee (I still prefer the name rufous-sided towhee) appeared a few days ago. I think I failed to see one last year, nor did I hear its call to “drink your tea.” I have heard owls calling, though, as they lay claim to their breeding grounds. They get a head start on all the other birds. I miss the barred owls that used to nest in the old beech tree out back. Each evening the male would fly in and call to his mate. She would leave the nest and sit next to him on a branch, and they would nuzzle for a while before flying across the creek to hunt around the pond. A few years ago I watched them do that very act. I watched as they disappeared into the dusk. That night I heard gunshots from across the creek, and I never saw the owls again. I did however hear their chick cry in hunger for two or three days, sitting weakly in the nest opening until one cold and rainy day, it too was silenced. The next year the tree toppled in a storm, and although I hear owls in the area, they have not returned to the trees near me.
Life is hard for these animals. Last year we had a pair of foxes who had nested nearby. Most days they could be seen sunning themselves beneath the dogwood in the back. But as the summer wore on, I noticed their hair thinning in patches and the foxes becoming itchy. After a while only one fox was even visiting, and its mange had reduced it to a naked, scaled monster. It looked weak and miserable. The neighbor across the street tried to help by tossing out chicken livers, and it did hang on for a long time. Eventually, even this solitary survivor disappeared, as well. I don’t like to think about this part of nature, but it happens. I prefer to await the rebirth that is coming. Soon the spring peepers will start calling, the woodland ephemerals will rise up and bloom in all their glory, the woods will take on that green haze that signifies the trees are starting to break bud, and the warblers will arrive from their South American winter holiday. I suspect we’ll see a fawn or two accompany their mother into the backyard, and if we’re lucky, maybe a new fox will stake claim to our little piece of the world. I don’t know what the year will hold, but I do know I am ready for it.